HC Deb 27 July 1893 vol 15 cc633-6

I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland whether, under the Police Code in force in Ireland, the Police Authorities of each county are bound to lay before the Judge of Assize at each Assizes a Return of the crimes and outrages reported to the police since the last Assizes; for what purpose is this Return laid before the Judges of Assize; how long has the practice of laying such Reports before the Irish Judges continued: whether any such Returns are laid before the Judges of Assize in England: whether the Irish Executive uses its own discretion as to the principles on which these Returns are framed; whether the Reports laid before the Chief Justice at the Assizes in Clonmel were framed, so far as injuries to property were concerned, on the same principles as those1 laid before him at Kilkenny; and whether he will state to the House what were the terms of the strongly-worded complaint and criticism of the Executive by the Chief Justice at the late Kilkenny Assizes.

MR. BODKIN (Roscommon, N.)

Before the right hon. Gentleman answers, may I ask if it was suggested by the learned Judge in the speech referred to that outrages believed by the police to be bogus should be included in the Return: and whether the result of such a manipulation would be to enable evil-disposed persons to pretend that crime is on the increase in Ireland since the suspension of the Coercion Act, whereas in reality the contrary is the csse?


I am not aware of the learned Judge's object in making the recommendation. I do not suppose it was made, otherwise than with a view to the Public Service. The answer to the first of the hon. and learned Gentleman's questions is in the affirmative; hut it is specifically directed that care is to he taken that none but outrages, recorded as such at headquarters, are included in the Return. In answer to the second question, there is no record of any reason for laying these Returns before the Judges; but I should suppose that the principal purpose was to give the Judges assistance in determining sentences, in case any particular form of crime should be especially prevalent. The Chief Justice at Kilkenny observed that the Code said that the object is that the Judge may address the Grand Jury with reference to the state of the county. The Code docs not appear to contain any statement of the kind. The practice has existed since 1862. I understand that no such Returns are laid before Judges of Assize in England; but, as the Chief Constable is a local and not a central officer, I am unable to say what actually takes place. The Irish Executive does and must use its own exclusive discretion in framing these Returns, for it is the Irish Executive and not the Judges who are responsible to Parliament. But I may repeat that no change whatever, great or small, in the principles, in the practice, or in the officials concerned has taken place since the present Government came into Office nor for many years past. The County Inspector at Clonmel Include certain cases which, according to the instructions in the Code, should not have appeared in the Return. The County Inspector in that made, by inadvertence, a mistake. The Lord Chief Justice described the system of preparing the Returns as unsatisfactory, as mistaken, and as confused, and in much need of amendment. I regard this as strongly worded. I had in view, not merely his language at Kilkenny, but the proceedings at Clonmel on July 12, when the Lord Chief Justice cross-examined the County Inspector at much length in open Court as to the system on which these Returns are prepared by the Executive Governmenl—a performance entirely unusual, and open to grave objections.


May I ask whether the Code does not provide that the County Inspector is to attend and to afford any information or explanation that may be required; and whether the matter on which the Chief Justice questioned the County Inspector was that it was stated in the Return that there were no eases of intimidation, whereas amongst the Reports there were actually two cases of mutilating cattle because evicted farms had been taken?

MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)

I wish to ask whether the Code has any statutory authority, or whether it is a local regulation of the Police, and whether it is a private or a public document: and also whether the Chief Secretary can suggest how the Members for the University or the Chief Justice got a copy, because we have pressed several times to have a copy laid on the Table, and were always refused by the late Chief Secretary?


Is the designation "outrage" not given in the Return to ordinary police offences, thereby misleading everyone interested in the administration of justice?


I am equally shocked at the designation "outrage" being given to what are offences against the law, and which I am perfectly sure those who read these Returns do not think of in that connection. The Code is not exactly a private document, because I believe there is a copy in the Library of this House. My hon. and learned Friend is perfectly right. There is no statutory obligation on the part of the Executive Government to furnish these Returns, and there is no right on the part of the Judges to call for such a Return except so far as the Code directs it. The hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin is quite right in saying that the Code directs the County Inspector to afford any information or explanation that may be required: but what was peculiar in these proceedings at Clonmel was that, I think for the first time, these communications between the County Inspector and the learned Judge took place in open Court, and not, as hitherto, privately, and that the proceedings in open Court were made the opportunity for criticising the system of the Executive Government.


Had not the learned Judge's remarks to the County Inspector in Court reference to the entry in the Return which the Chief Secretary has stated was mistaken and contrary to the rules of the Code: and J may further ask whether, if the learned Judge had not called attention to the matter, the mistake would have passed unnoticed: is it not the duty of the Judge to refer to any defects or irregularities in the Returns, whether they affect the Executive favourably or unfavourably?


And may I ask whether the police are directed, in cases whore no prosecution is pending at the suit of the Crown, to submit themselves to the cross-examination of Judges: whether this has occurred before: and whether the Judges receive salaries for cross-examining the police?


I think this is a practice more honoured in the breach than in the observance. It puts the officers of the Executive Government in a false position, and I think it puts the learned Judge himself in a false position. The hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh cannot have read very carefully the cross-examination by the learned Judge of the County Inspector, or he would see that the question is much wider than he supposes.

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

Docs the right hon. Gentleman say there is a copy of the Code in the Library?


I believe there is. It is not for sale, and consequently, in that sense, the Code is a private document.